30-May-1969 – Antwerp Marathon – 2:08:33.6 – Adidas Marathon
Date of birth: 17-Nov-1942
To give you an example of the drive that Derek Clayton had, we need to look back to the 1968 Olympics. Clayton was suffering from knee complaints coming into the event, but he still pushed on with training. According to Clayton, his knee swelled to the size of a grapefruit. His decision was to inject painkillers and start the race anyway. Despite the pain, he still managed to finish 7th.
Clayton considered his world record run in 1967 as something of an accident, and wanted to test how fast he could go if he trained for the occasion. In 1969, as part of the Belgian Championships to be held in Antwerp, he hoped to realise this ambition. The course was flat and the weather cool, helped by the race starting in the evening. Clayton had spent the previous ten weeks putting his body through some of the toughest training of his career. His sights were set on a 2:07 marathon.
Only nine days before the event he had competed in Turkey at the Ankara Marathon. Despite the hot conditions, Clayton won and still felt fresh the day after, proof his training regime had worked. Just before the race started in Antwerp at the Beerschot Stadium, he was shivering, although Clayton thought it may have been the adrenaline and not the cold.
The first five kilometres disappeared in 14:58, at which point Clayton powered into the lead. After seven kilometres, only Akio Usami was with him. Clayton would pass ten kilometres in only 30:06, just behind Bob Moore who had completed the distance in 29:40. The crowds egging him on, Clayton had to do all he could not to heed their call to speed up even further.
Halfway was reached in 1:03:55, and Clayton knew the world record was within his grasp. With 27 kilometres done, he began to feel his endurance fading and his pace going with it. Clayton started to speed up, hoping to push past the fatigue. It only got worse, the final ten kilometres flowing by in an exhausted fog.
With around three kilometres left, Clayton started retching black bile, but when he saw the lights of the stadium from where the race started he somehow found the energy to finish the race. He was greeted by 15,000 screaming fans that had been there for the football match played during the marathon itself. He was finally told that he had broken the 2:09 barrier and Clayton was elated.
The joy would turn to fear in the following hours, Clayton urinating blood and vomiting black mucous, such was the toll on his body. It would take him six months to physically recover from the effort he put into the race. He would still make the Commonwealth Games the next year, albeit running with a cold so bad he needed a medical waiver to compete. At the 1972 Olympics Clayton started strongly again but would fade to the lower places.
We now get to the controversial part of this story. I had initially written about the uncertainty around the course length, which many over the years have attempted to verify. I’ve been fortunate enough to get a copy of the course map itself, which has allowed me to confirm that the 1969 Antwerp Marathon was almost certainly short.
You can read more about that here. Clayton is still one of the greatest distance runners of all-time, however it was the marks set by Ron Hill, Ian Thompson, Shigeru So, and Gerard Nijboer that should be recognised as the marathon world record between the mark set by Clayton in 1967 and that of Rob de Castella in 1981.
Recently I was fortunate enough to get a very clear photo of Clayton running during the event, and they are without question the Adidas Marathon racing flat. They were unusual in that they were the same colourway as the Mexicana.
Clayton wore similar Marathons at the 1968 Olympics. We can see them during the opening minute of colour video of the event, which I’ve embedded below. Look for the Clayton’s shoes at the 17 second mark.
You can see his shoes feature the gold and black colourway that otherwise appeared on the Adidas Mexicana. That shoe was based on the Gazelle, and had a much thicker midsole, designed more for training than racing.
Although some catalogues indicate the Marathon was only available in white leather, others show the model available in the distinctive blue kangaroo velour used in many Adidas models at the time. The midsole is incredibly thin, providing only the minimal amount of cushioning requires for elite athletes, making it ideal for the calibre of Clayton, Bikila, Wolde, and one Kathrine Switzer.
As for Clayton, it appears that it was not be the last custom pair that Adidas made for him. In the picture often misattributed to the Antwerp Marathon, which was actually taken at the Maxol Marathon held in Manchester several months later, we see Clayton in Adidas with white overlays. In colour footage of that event we can see that Clayton’s shoes were actually bright red. While similar to the colourway used by the Gazelle, the midsole is clearly much thinner.
You cannot buy the Marathon, or at least the specific version from 1968 discussed here. The Mexicana however was rereleased in 2022 and at the time of writing is still widely available, complete with the same golden suede upper of the original.
Running to the top by Derek Clayton